In America, sports have evolved into a big, multibillion dollar spectacle, but in the late 20th century, sports also became a great, if imperfect, democratizing force by which anyone with talent might succeed regardless of race, color or creed. Although the massive multistory "Equality" banners on the Benson Tower by the Superdome suggest a bit of satisfying civic schadenfreude after the NBA All-Star Game was moved here in response to North Carolina's transgender bathroom law, equality is what makes America's democratic version of patriotism very different from mere mean-spirited nationalism. That ideal of equality, despite our deeply conflicted history, is as much a part of America's exceptionalism as its vast, imposing landscape. Both appear in photographer Rob Hammer's Basketball Hoops Project, which relocated to New Orleans along with the game it celebrates.
Hammer is a Los Angeles-based sports photographer known for dramatic action shots, but these images are quietly meditative views of basketball hoops across America. No people are visible, but each picture resonates a human presence in landscapes rendered with a painterly flair for color and composition. In Barn, Utah, a rusty hoop protrudes from the dilapidated wall of a derelict barn in a scene that looks like a ghostly German expressionist take on rustic Americana. Even more mysterious is Milk, New York, a bottomless milk crate on a weathered pole by a shuttered Gothic church with gnarly vines and dark shadows worthy of an Alfred Hitchcock film. Night, California depicts a moonrise over a playground hoop in a scene that somehow unites the ordinary with the cosmic. Mars, Arizona is an otherworldly view of a metal folding chair and a basketball hoop rising from a red, sandy expanse like an image NASA's Mars Exploration Rover might have transmitted from the red planet. Perhaps most emblematic of all is America, New Mexico (pictured) with its painted American flag backboard radiating a hopeful folk art evocation of a bright, shining and eternally buoyant American dream.